The Good Old New Musical Resources

Sunday 7 September 2008

He provided a new and visionary basis for musical exploration based in the unalterable facts of acoustics, a basis so broad that it opened up room in the Western tradition not only for musics of the rest of the world, but for compositional systems that have not even been conceived yet. If Cowell failed to fulfill his own potentials, it was because those potentials were too ambitious to be realized except by a succession of future generations. As a prophet he pointed the way to a new world he was not destined to live in….

For nearly 70 years Henry Cowell’s book New Musical Resources has inspired composers to explore new territory in the worlds of harmony and rhythm, and to discover connections between the two. Barely a week after uploading a PDF of Notations, UbuWeb has made a scan of Cowell’s complete book available as a 56 MB PDF download.

For a practical demonstration of Cowell’s musical thinking, American Mavericks is still hosting the Virtual Rhythmicon, which lets you play with the instrument yourself, or hear other people’s compositions. The original rhythmicon was built by Leon Theremin in 1931, following Cowell’s instructions. The electronic instrument was configured to play notes in the same harmonic and rhythmic ratios as the frequencies of the harmonic series.